Constructing a gaming body

Today I’m thinking about how a gaming body is constructed. It’s easy enough to say “DUH, it’s your avatar”, but really it is so much more than this. Gameplay affects the construction of the body, dialogue does, the narrative; but also things external to the game, like concept art,  manuals, the disc covers, figurines, books or graphic novels. And no, this isn’t really news to anyone, I’m just looking into the various things that work together to create the image. Some scholars seem very focused on gameplay elements only and ignore these extra things that game studios also produce to go alongside the game. Some consider these sort of items to be ephemera, stuff meant to be tossed away. An article I read recently called some of these physical items ‘feelies’, from Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World. I prefer instead to adopt the term paratext. A paratext is usually applied to the extra stuff about a novel: the chapter headings, the contents page, the dedications, the blurbs, the covers, marketing materials, author interviews. It’s stuff around the text itself and can actually influence the reading itself. Consider John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars Author’s Note:

“This is not so much an author’s note as an author’s reminder of what was printed in small type a few pages ago: This book is a work of fiction. I made it up. Neither Novels or their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species. I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.”

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I’m going to use the example of the undead or Forsaken in World of Warcraft. In part simply because I freaking love the Forsaken, I love their story, I love Sylvanas (if you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know all this). But also, the Forsaken are the most abjected race, they are reviled, even their allies dislike them. They are walking corpses, an affront to nature itself, and most came about from the plague that used to infect Azeroth, but these days they are resurrected by Val’kyr.

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Also this post is way long, due to the loads of pictures and Youtube clips.

Continue reading Constructing a gaming body

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TL;DR Cultural Studies edition

There’s always the question of “why zombies?”. Zombies, people tell me, are stupid. In fact, popular culture is stupid. Reality TV makes you dumb. Romance is for bored housewives. YA is just dumbed down story (*shudder*). There’s no meaning to be found there. It’s all stupid.

Which is a rather narrow view that is really quite old and useless. So let’s re-evaluate your assumptions together!

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seraThis is my main on Warcraft, Seranithe, and she will be your pictorial guide!

“Culture is ordinary; that is where we must start”, Raymond Williams wrote. Culture is not defined within the theaters and operas, culture is common or shared meanings (something Stuart Hall agrees with). Culture is not something you DO, it is something lived. It’s not just the arts, it is in everything. It even includes furnishings, clothing, cars, appliances – as Gans says, most appliances are treated as necessities, but their forms, styles, material etc are a matter of culture.

meat vendorEven this meat vendor is a part of culture!

High vs Popular culture is, in part, a sort of class warfare based on how rich and educated you are. In essence, they are stereotypes. In his introduction, Gans refers to a US report into the arts stated “cultural equality remains as elusive as social, economic and educational equality”. Research is not needed to point out that some people cannot afford to go the opera – of course!  Culture is not just dependent on wealth or education, although social institutions definitely play a role, but it’s also about identity (age, race, gender etc) as well as personal choice.

garryGarrosh, previous leader of the Horde, thinks orcs are better than undead, aka the Forsaken, and looks down upon them. So for this example, Garrosh thinks orcs are high culture, and the undead are popular culture.

Culture is not distinct from systems of power, as it acts as a hegemonic force. Hegemony for Gramsci is a continuous and uneven struggle by the dominant class, culture or other grouping to present their world view and sort of convince other classes or groups that it’s the normal thing to do. Essentially, they rule by a sort of twisted consent. How does this relate to culture? Well, everything is ideological. There is no singular dominant ideology, but rather a struggle of conflicting beliefs and ideas that work similarly to hegemonic power.

voljinVol’jin is now the leader of the Horde, which is made up of a bunch of different races. While the undead would like to go around murdering humans to create more undead, the leader of the horde often pushes his ideology onto them and say “Welllll that’s not really nice. So don’t.”

Hall, Gans and Williams all reject that culture is an enforced thing, but that it does have power and influence. Hall concludes that there is no need to restrict it; at the same time that cultural industries do have the power to rework and reshape what they represent, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone just blindly follows and accepts they see/read/do:

“These definitions don’t have the power to occupy our minds; they don’t function on us as if we are blank screens. But they do occupy and rework the interior contradictions of feeling and perception in the dominated classes; they do find or clear a space of recognition in those who respond to them. Cultural domination has real effects – even if these are neither all-powerful nor all-inclusive.”

wrathgateSo not all undead really go for that “don’t murder humans” thing. At the Wrathgate, when the Alliance and Horde united against the Lich King, some undead thought it was a brilliant time to plague-bomb the lot of them. Sylvanas, leader of the undead, was all “WTF bro?”

To be very particular, popular culture is actually considered as a site of cultural struggle. For Fiske, pop culture “contains both the forces of domination and the opportunities to speak against them”. Crawford argues that it is because genre, such as paranormal romance, is considered to be lower in status to high literature it is less controlled and allowed to speak more directly to themes and voices that might otherwise be silenced.

sylvnasThe Forsaken is a particular site of struggle. On the one hand, they cannot leave the Horde. They are too close to Alliance territory to go it alone. On the other hand, they will slowly die as there are no legit means to create more undead.

While cultural studies changes and morphs all the time, this is the general current theory that I ascribe to. Next time on TL;DR: Cultural Studies edition, I’ll go more into “but what does it meannnnn?”, looking at representations, a few different approaches on how it is thought representations work, and probably more selfies to fill up the space and give you something pretty to look at.

 

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Recommended Reading

 

  • Popular Culture and High Culture, An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste by Herbert Gans
  • Anything you can find by Stuart Hall
  • Huge borrowing from Representation 2nd Edition, edited by Stuart Hall, Jessica Evans and Sean Nixon.
  • Williams, Raymond. “Culture Is Ordinary.” The Everyday Life Reader. 2002. 9
  • Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci.
  • Fiske, John. Understanding Popular Culture. 2nd Ed. London: Routledge, 1996.
  • Crawford, Joseph. The Twilight of the Gothic? Vampire Fiction and the Rise of the Paranormal Romance 1991-2012.

Postliteracy FTW! with @feddabonn

3dAre makerspaces ushering in a postliteracy era?

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What the hell?

Postliteracy is basically the idea that there will soon come a time when text and writing will no longer be as dominant as they are now, and we will find other means to communicate.

While the technology of writing has been around for ages, even historically literate societies such as the Chinese only had a small percentage of their population actually literate. Mass literacy is a result of the Gutenberg press and movable type, and subsequent European colonisation.

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Why the hell?

Reading and writing are too bloody hard. It takes most people at least 10 years of education to effectively read and write in their first language. Increasingly, 15 years of education is the standard.

ALSO

Reading and writing are specially too hard for people who belong to pre-literate or recently literate cultures. This is pretty much most of the non-European world. While West, East and South Asian civilisations have had scripts for the longest time, even in these civilisations the ability to read and write was often restricted to a privileged few.

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This means that people from these communities are severely disadvantaged with access to information. This is seen in negative health and economic statistics, among others. Examples of this are the comparative well-being of Māori and Pasifika people in Aotearoa New Zealand, Aboriginal peoples in Australia and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in India.

A few people think that post-literate ways of communication would be closely related to pre-literate ways of communication. The Pacific islands are full of examples of the use of tattooing, woodwork, speech making, songs and stories as ways to communicate and record culture. So if post-literate strategies are similar to pre-literate strategies, maybe finding what those strategies are will also help communicate import information to people that need it most in the here and now.

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Who the hell?

Mostly old white men, I’m sorry. At least they aren’t rich, I don’t think. Not very anyway.

  • Marshall McLuhan, 1967, The Gutenberg Galaxy : Talks of the tyranny of the text, and how the electronic age would bring its end.
  • Walter J. Ong, 1982, Orality and Literacy: Talks of how orality and literacy are very different cultures, and not variants of each other. Talks of the coming of a ‘secondary orality’ based on electronic technology, that will build on both pre-literate oral cultures as well as literate text based ones.
  • Thomas Pettitt and Lars Sauerberg, 2010ish, Gutenberg Parenthesis and The Future is Medieval: Pettitt and Sauerberg see mass literacy as an anomaly that interrupted the development of oral culture, and our current electronic/internet age as a return to that orality.
  • James C. Scott, 2009, The Art of Not Being Governed: Anarchist historian James Scott looks at upland South East Asia as a history of resistance to and evasion from Empire. The most controversial and least evidenced chapter deals with the idea of post-literacy as a strategy used by groups…deliberately losing their script to avoid empire.
  • Michael Ridley, 2012, Beyond Literacy: Mike looks at a complete abandoning of visual language with improved technology. This is a bit different from Ong’s secondary orality, that would still depend in many ways on literacy.

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Why do I care?

My mother belongs to a small tribal group in north east India called the Mizo, based (mostly) in the state of Mizoram. We were litericised and Christianised by Welsh missionaries in the late 1800s. Like everywhere else, this was a complex mix of welfare and destruction. I grew up watching my Mizo cousins wrestle with modern education and literacy, without the cultural underpinnings that highly educated Indians took for granted. Years later my wife and I moved to Aotearoa New Zealand, where I see Māori and Pasifika people struggling with similar issues. Something crystallised, and I have been thinking/reading about postliteracy for a little over two years now.

I am currently studying postliteracy in the context of the Pacific, hoping to find strategies that can be used in the here and now to help societies that were recently made literate. I also hope/expect to specifically study the maker movement as a postliterate strategy, and as a way to engage and communicate with people from oral cultures. Maybe the whole thing is a pipe dream, but it is a good dream if it helps improve the world experience of people from recently literate cultures. We have rich oral cultures, but have been tricked and forced into believing that our cultures are inferior to literate ones. No more.

When not studying, I am a librarian with Auckland Libraries. Yeah, ironic, I know. Reachable on twitter @feddabonn, where I rant and swear a lot.

Ideology and the Reader

This is a post of contention. The idea of ideology and meaning in fiction has long been argued about. I think the problem stems back to English classes where we are taught about authors intentions, deliberate meaning and relationship between the author’s feelings and own lives to their fiction. Now, this is ONE type of way to analyse fiction, but personally not one I go for.

This post is about exploring another way to analyse fiction. Nothing is right or wrong in academia (unless it’s written by a dead French guy, then it’s always right  /snark), so everything (that can be backed up with scholarly, peer-reviewed works) is legit.

** With thanks to Tim Coronel and Jodi McAlister for their input ❤ **

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Ideology in the Story

All text is considered ideological.

A narrative without an ideology is unthinkable: ideology is formulated in and by language, meanings within language are socially determined, and narratives are constructed out of language (Stephens 8).

By how you write characters, story and events, you create particular attributes, values, morals, ethics etc. which are inscribed as good or bad. Where this gets messy is the concept of the author’s intention. Some believe that authors do this all deliberately, to imprint upon her/his audience certain messages. I’m of the belief that the author’s intention cannot be read within a text (check out Death of the Author) – the text speaks for itself.

All statements are mediated (at first created by the author, but then by the narrator – for more on narration, check here). The creation of any text does carry particular meanings within it regardless of intent. Ideology is not merely carried through deliberate action but by subconscious assumptions too. What is communicated is the story and it is communicated by discourse (the discourse states the story) (Chatman 31).

Story and Discourse Pg 26

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The Communication of the Ideology

The type of study I am doing looks at how the narrative structure and techniques can influence or lead a reader to a particular message or ideology. This is not to say all readers are blank slates and blindly accept whatever they are given (resistance is entirely possible – see Althusser or Gramsci). The story creates an implied reader position or audience. The audience for young adult fiction is, generally, young adults. But we know not everyone who actually reads YA is a young adult. With what the text assumes about what its reader knows, and how it presents information (particularly through narration), it positions the implied reader regardless of the real reader.

A narrative texts’ construction of communication is read thusly:

Real Author -> [Implied Author -> (Narrator) -> (Narratee) -> Implied Reader] -> Real Reader

The implied author is the reconstruction of the author by the reader from the narrative. The implied author has no direction in the work, it is how a reader might imagine an author to be based on the narrative. Perhaps this is where all those “the room was blue, this shows the author was sad” sort of statements come from?

Outside the brackets are the real world, you can take, give, resist or write as you, the individual. Inside the square brackets are what is drawn from or created by the narrative, which is established within the round brackets.

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Hollindale’s Three Levels of Ideology

  1. Explicit social, political or moral beliefs of the individual writer and his/her wish to recommend them to readers through the story. Intended surface ideology. Usually more radical/non-conservative.
  2. The individual writer’s unexamined assumptions. Even passive beliefs can be revealed through story. These are generally widely shared values.
  3. A large part of any book is written not by its author, but by the world the author lives in. This transcends the idea of individual authorship.

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Examples:

Applebaum’s research into YA science fiction is based on the proposal that as adults are the writers of children’s books, they influence the novel (whether deliberately or not) with their own fears and anxieties.

…the function of SF as a vehicle for exploring contemporary dilemmas within the context of scientific and technological discovers, a perception which is central to this book (Applebaum 3)

James’ study looks at representations of death in children’s fiction, as well as gender and sexuality.

…a culture’s representations of death may be read collectively as a text to give insights into its social systems, death ethos, conceptions of selfhood, temporal orientation, and religious and secular values (James 2)

Trites’ research is into power relations that are represented within adolescent literature. Teenagers must learn the negotiation of social institutions (power) to be able to grow successfully, according to societal rules and expectations.

Adolescent novels…invariably reflect some cultural biases, most of which are likely to be veiled in ideological discourses that affirm widely held societal views (Trites 27)

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Recommended Reading

  • Chatman, Seymore. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film.
  • Barthes, Roland. Death of the Author. 1967 essay.
  • Applebaum, Noga Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People
  • James, Kathryn Death, Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Adolescent Literature
  • Trites, Roberta Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature
  • McCallum, Robyn Ideologies of Identity in Adolescent Fiction: The Dialogic Construction of Subjectivity
  • Stephens, John Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction
  • Genette, Gerard Narrative Discourse
  • Hollindale, Peter, Ideology and the Children’s Book (This article is especially useful!)
  • Gramsci, Antonio Selections of Prison Notebooks
  • Davis, Helen, Understanding Stuart Hall
  • Althusser, Louis Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses